Locomotor performance constrained by morphology and habitat in a diverse clade of African frogs (Anura: Pyxicephalidae)
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Understanding how morphology relates to function and how the two change across species in different environments and regions can provide clues to the drivers of speciation and diversity within a clade. Locomotion is a vital trait for most animals to function, and locomotor adaptations should involve morphological changes that maximize fitness in specific environments. We focus on the Pyxicephalidae, a speciose sub-Saharan anuran family with remarkable morphological and ecological diversity, and hypothesize that morphological differences among these species affect locomotor performance and that these represent adaptations to their surrounding environment. We tested 215 individuals across 25 species for various aspects of locomotor performance by filming frogs jumping and swimming, inducing sustained movement around a circular track and rotating a non-stick surface until adhesion failure. We then used Ornstein–Uhlenbeck models to determine whether species showed trait selection between different environments. We found that some morphological traits were significantly correlated with aspects of locomotor performance between species. Microhabitats showed separate selective optima for both morphology and locomotor performance, specifically between combinations of semi-aquatic, fossorial, semi-arboreal and terrestrial species. Our study shows how ecological conditions coincide with morphological and locomotor differences within a continental arena, generating a remarkably diverse African frog family.
- RESEARCH: Measey, J